What is Vancian Magic?

You might have heard that the magic used by the spellcasters of Dungeons & Dragons is “Vancian magic.” Just that is probably enough for you to discern that the magic of dungeons and dragons falls under a “type” of magic systems employed by fantasy writers and worldbuilders. But what is Vancian magic?

Vancian Magic gets its name from the speculative fiction author Jack Vance who won many awards during his life. A few of his stories include the Dying Earth Series, which has inspired an anthology titled Songs of the Dying Earth. In his works, Vance portrayed an Earth far in the future when the continents have rearranged, and the Sun has just a few million years left.

The wizards of this distant future are limited to knowing just a small handful of spells at a time. Two, three, maybe four if they work hard. Once they cast a spell, they forget it and have to memorize it again later. Why is this? It’s clear that memorizing a spell takes a great deal of mental effort, and some characters allude to these spells having a basis in math. Because only a handful of spells can be known at once, the wizards of this world spend their time creating things, and when they anticipate a need, they sit down and memorize spells that they think they might need.

From all this we can make a few “rules” to describe a Vancian magic system.

  1. Magic is a scholarly affair.
  2. Memorizing a spell takes a great amount of effort.
  3. Casters are limited to memorizing just a few spells at a time.
  4. Once a spell is cast it must be learned again.

Lastly, we have the flavor! One of my favorite things about Vancian Magic! Many of the spells in these systems will be named after their creators. I know many writers will probably use these names as throwaways without any deeper backstory, but I love the sense of history that the names imply.

Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds versus Beyond the Aquila Rift from Love, Death & Robots

I was torn when I did this for Zima Blue. I understand that movies will always be different from the stories they are based on. These differences are completely understandable in many cases. Some things don’t translate well, would be too expensive to depict, or need to be cut for the sake of time. In Love, Death & Robots, the screenwriters only had about ten minutes for each story. That isn’t a lot of time to portray the complexity of even a short story. With that in mind, I think Netflix could have done a lot better with this one.

Beyond the Aquilla Rift is about a starship that finds itself light years off course. The ship’s captain emerges from hibernation to find that he has traveled so far for so long that everyone he ever knew back home is long dead. But it’s not all bad because at this remote outpost, he meets an old flame by the name of “Greta.” Greta changes her story a few times but eventually tells him that her ship became stranded in this remote locale through a mishap similar to what stranded his. This is also a lie. His ship is, in fact, the first human ship to ever arrive at this remote station. The captain, we learn, never woke up from hibernation. Everything he experienced was a simulation fed to him by the entity that took care of all the lost souls that came to it.

The animation LDR’s version is gorgeous, and like all good sci-fi, the ending both answers questions and introduces new ones. But I can’t bring myself to hold both versions at the same level as I did with Zima Blue. They are different, and that is okay, but the adaptation makes too many jumps. The protagonist’s realization that things are not as they seem is far too abrupt. Rather than spend as much time as they did on a gratuitous sex scene, I think the writers would have done the story better justice if they had shown us some of the inconsistencies in the simulation, the little details that hinted that something just wasn’t right.

If I had to give both a rating, I would say the LDR’s version would get a 2/5, and the original written version would get a 3.5/5. I am not a fan of this kind of story in general, but I think it is well done. LDR’s version is visually stunning, but it doesn’t show us enough to really understand the predicament the protagonist finds himself in.

I hope you liked this review. Because I just found out that all the short stories that inspired season one is available as a single anthology, so there are going to be a lot more posts like this.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]
Book One of the Inhibitor Trilogy

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks. It’s helped to make tedious tasks more enjoyable, and it has helped me cross A LOT of books off of my to-be-read list. A few of these books have been Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Trilogy. These books have me obsessed.

For those who don’t know, Alastair Reynolds is a prolific science fiction author who studied astrophysics with the European Space Agency. He holds a doctorate in astronomy and his experience shines through in his writing.

He has an incredibly engaging style that he peppers with just the right amount of scientific jargon to make his settings convincing. He also does an amazing job of bringing seemingly disparate story threads together at the end in ways so obvious in retrospect.

I could go on and on about why I like these books. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that Reynolds does very well. Conflict. Or should I call it fluff? You know those fight scenes that drag on too long or the infiltrations that seem a little too contrived? I know I can’t be the only one, which is why I was so happy when Reynolds chose to fade to black for those scenes that another author might instead drag along for a chapter or two.

That’s not to say that these books don’t have fight scenes or are free of violence, but Reynolds seems to know exactly how much of the fight we need to be shown, and much of the violence in the series takes place between starships. Starships so far apart that a commander will not know if their attack was successful for several hours. In a book like this, conflict is best shown through the thoughts and worries of the commanders rather than the minutia that many authors get stuck in.

Fantastic books. 5/5. Go read.

The Golden Fleece Inn

First established in Rome during the reign of Augustus. For nearly two thousands years the Golden Fleece Inn has been a nexus of the supernatural community.

Located deep within the Infinite Staircase, the Inn does not actually exist on Earth, allowing Patrius to remodel every few centuries without regard for building codes or the laws of physics. There are six locations where the Inn can be accessed directly from Earth. Each of these appears as a rundown establishment at the end of an alleyway or a dilapidated part of town and is heavily warded by Patrius to make accidental discovery by mortals unlikely.

The six cities on Earth from which the Inn can be located are Rome, Istanbul, London, Kyoto, New York City, and Jerusalem. No matter which door a visitor enters through they all find themselves at the front door to the Inn next to the bouncer. Each city then has its own exit door somewhere in the Inn, while the front door also serves as the exit to the Impossible Staircase. The Inn is also accessible via a short journey through the Impossible Staircase from St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Chicago, Cairo, and Mexico City.

Some guests would prefer that the Inn accept currency other than silver denarius. The Stiltskin Trust Co moneylender in the corner is normally happy to exchange currencies, but often attempts to trick customers into making other bargains.

Both the owner of the Inn and its staff are notably eccentric and have a strong desire to look after the wellbeing of the Inn’s guests.

Patrius – a human sorcerer of indeterminant age. Patrius appears as a middle aged man with slightly greying hair and is usually wearing a purple button-down shirt. He is an extremely powerful sorcerer who uses earth magic to extend his own life. Most of his time is spent sitting in his alcove where he can listen in on conversations. If a guest attracts his interest he will normally invite them to sit with him where he will ask about them about themselves and make occasional notes in his guest book. In the early days of the Inn he was known to disappear for years at a time without explanation. Nowadays his absences have grown much rarer and last for a few days at most.

Ted – the hulky, shirtless, tattooed bouncer sitting in the broken recliner is a troll named Ted. He takes the Inn’s no fighting rule very seriously and doesn’t care about much else. A few years ago someone introduced him to Chinese food and became addicted. Now regulars often bring him offerings of egg rolls and lo mein. Ted is almost never seen without his trusty silver battle axe which stands almost as tall as he does.

Gib and Gob – the kitchens are run by a pair of scaly green imps named Gib and Gob. No one actually knows which one is which. Regulars insist that their cooking is second to none, and they are right as long as the two have had a few years to practice their new recipes.

Dan – A tall and skinny young demon with four arms and horns growing from his forehead. Dan tends the bar and is an amazingly talented mixologist. His true passion however is for coffee and he has several customs blends that he makes for guests.

Bog/Boggie – the Inn’s resident boggart who takes care of the housekeeping and serves as a messenger for Patrius. It takes the shape of a large cat with a silver collar around its neck and a chain that drags along the floor. When it’s not busy it can be found sleeping in front of the fire in Patrius’s alcove.

The staff are exceptionally loyal to Patrius and the Inn, but the place wouldn’t be the same without its regulars.

Nathan – an NYU graduate student studying creative writing and folklore. Nathan is not magical in least but wandered in by accident on day. He’s been coming to the Inn ever since and it has become his favorite study spot.

The Captain – an old mariner who always smells like fish and wont stop talking about the time he wrestled a polar bear. He appears to be some kind of ocean demigod but has never revealed who his parents are.

Doug – the president of the NYC chapter of the Black Dog Motercycle Club. He and his pack come nearly every night.

Arito Taisho – a shinto priest and talented psychic. He comes to the Inn regularly to play cards with Doug and the rest of the pack.

Belesunnu – a middle eastern woman of few words. She has a talent for wind and earth magic and mostly likes to challenge over-confident men to games of darts or archery contests.

Gerark – an elderly bugbear who works for Stiltskin Trust Co. He sits in the corner most days with his magic circle, ready to exchange currencies and seal magical contracts.

Jasmine/James – a shapeshifting succubus/inccubus who runs a small escort business. They have helped people hide more than a few skeletons and is generally the one to go to for information about the current state of the supernatural. They are often seen smoking with Patrius in his alcove, drinking with Nathan, or giving Dan feedback on his newest coffee blend.

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Powered by Blood

My response to an interesting writing prompt that I saw on reddit today.

The original post can be found here :https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/98ogf9/wp_you_are_living_in_a_world_where_every_energy/?utm_source=reddit-android

Being picked is a strange feeling.

I was too old when HemeCorp changed the world. Once their chips became mainstream, people suddenly gained the ability to charge their phones and all their other electronics with just a prick of their finger. HemeCorp circuits only need a drop of blood to generate a current. But as their usage grew so too did demand. A pricked finger can’t power a bus or a train after all.

Soon our entire system depended on electricity generated from human blood. The government started requiring everyone to sign up for a lottery on their eighteenth birthday, and every year the government uses this lottery to pick the new donors who will power the country. I was already twenty five when the system was implemented, I avoided donorship. Or I would have.

You see, when the law allowing the conscription of donors was passed, it specified that only individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty one could be selected. Unless a state of emergency is declared.

I was thirty-five when terrorist attacks disable three of the country’s refineries in the same week. Some people rushed to volunteer and were quickly accepted by the Department of Energy, which at that point had gotten desperate for more of the blood that keeps our society running.

People like me nervously checked their email every morning, praying that they wouldn’t be picked.

Mine came on the last day of the lottery. At first I didn’t believe it. I told myself that maybe it was a scam until my wife read it. It was real.

We both took off work that day. But we waited to tell the kids. What else were we supposed to do? The terms of lottery gave me a week to report to the refinery. So we took the kids out of school took them on a weekend trip camping. Only when we got back did we tell them that I would be leaving.

They started crying, I cried with them. Up until that point I had been numb in a way. The fact that I would be leaving my family, to live out the rest of my life at a refinery, didn’t seem real. It all seemed like a dream.

On the day I was scheduled to report, the whole family came to drop me off at the refinery. I spent most of the car ride trying to cheer them up.

I’ll use this time to write a book like I always wanted, I told them. Then I said maybe I would learn to play an instrument, or pick up some extra degrees online. It wasn’t like I was dying, I said. But we all knew how it would be. The lives of donors are carefully regulated. They have to be be protected, kept healthy, and always near a collection point. It’s true that I wasn’t dying, but our lives together would never be the same.

When we got to the refinery I pulled my wife aside. I suggested that we get a divorced. Sure, I said, I’d be well paid and could send them money. But that was no substitute for actually being around. I told her it would be better if we divorced. I could still send them money and she could find someone that would be there for her and the kids. She just stared at me with was sad, desperate eyes, and told me that I was crazy for suggesting it. I laughed and told her she was right.

Then, on my walk to the refinery gate something broke inside me. I knew that if I was to keep my sanity as a donor, I wouldn’t be able to pretend that I had a life outside of the refinery’s walls. It’d be easier for all of us to pretend that I was dead.

I didn’t look back when I reached the gates, even though I could hear my family crying behind me. Last week I got my divorce papers in the mail. Turns out it only takes three years of no contact for your wife to leave you.

I’ll keep sending them money. Enough that the kids will be fed and able to go to school. If they’re lucky they’ll never be picked as a donor like I was.

I didn’t respond to the divorce papers. Or the fathers day cards. Or the photo albums. I’ve still to this day refused to look back, just like I refused to look back on that walk to the gate.

Other donors have asked me when I’ll come around and start talking with my family again. I try my best to avoid their questions. The truth is that I can’t look back. If I reach out, become involved, I’ll only be reminded of what I lost. What I could have been. If that happens I would surely break. And I’d have no way to pick up the pieces.